A recent discussion in an online community through LinkedIn for independently published authors got me to thinking. Sure, I had seen countless SPA’s in my FB feed blast me with advertisements about their books going up for FREE and the aftermath of them proclaiming they gave away X number of free copies. So, I began researching into how to do this for my own titles.
To begin with, many authors swore the only way to get your titles up for free was to have a few hundred of your readers email Amazon and ask them to do a free day. As it turns out, anyone who chooses to enroll their books in the KDP Select program can put their book up for free or do a “countdown deal.” These programs sounded interesting enough. But what is KDP anyway?
KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing. The KDP Select program offers two promotional tools, the “free” promotion where you can put your title up for free anywhere from 24 hours to 5 days. The countdown deal allows you to start your work at a lower price, even free, and then gradually increase the price. The countdown deal can last from 1 hour to 7 days.
The only stipulation to be enrolled in KDP is that your work must NOT be available in any format anywhere else. That means no B&N, no LuLu, no Smashwords, etc. In addition, your work must have a regular starting price of $2.99 minimum and must stay at the regular price for 30 days in order for the work to qualify for either a free promotion or a countdown deal. The last stipulation is that each book can only be signed up for one of these promotional deals ONCE every 3 months.
After seeing this apparently work miracles for other SPAs – according to THEIR recollections, that is – I decided to take a chance and enrolled 3 of my novels into the KDP program.
Before my books qualified to start a free or countdown deal promotion, a fellow independently published author started a lovely conversation in one of the groups I joined on LinkedIn. He had basically posted his observances and experience with doing a free day on Amazon. His experience was much like everyone else’s experiences: hundreds of copies given away, ZERO reviews, a plummeting Amazon ranking once the free day was over, and a slow pick up on return to sales for months after the free day.
Here’s a breakdown of my own experiences and those other authors who are openly honest about their experiences.
First, I did not want to give away hundreds of copies. These days readers pop books like PEZ candy, so I knew that the more books I gave away and the more people who knew about it, the less likely I was to attract customers who would become repeat purchasers of my work.
I set one of my most popular, but not most recently released books, to go for a 2 day freebie. The first day I posted about it on my FB page about 4 times. A few readers picked up the link and shared it on their FB pages. On day two, I hit a few FB book promotion groups. I think I only posted in 4, and 2 of those did not actually approve my post until the day AFTER the promotion was off. I think I posted about it 2 or 3 times on my private account.
There were no blogs announcing it except my own, no other authors mentioning it that I saw nor did I have my street team out pimping it. In all I gave away a few hundred books, not bad considering there were just a few token posts on my own FB account and no real coverage of the giveaway days.
Before I get into the breakdown, we have to look at why we run promotions in the first place.
A. Reviews. We hope that the more people who get their hands on our books, the more likely some of them will leave reviews.
B. Repeat customers and more sales in the long run. We hope that by making the books more affordable, we can get them into the hands of more readers. In turn, those readers will become repeat customers, wanting to read additional books that we have published.
In addition to the few hundred books given away on my free day, I have also donated to several blogs with free ebooks for giveaways. The results have been disastrous across the board.
a. ZERO reviews. After giving away all those hundreds of copies, I have received ZERO reviews from the recipients of these freebies.
Why? Due to the mass influx of SPAs and new books hitting Amazon every day, authors have slashed their prices down to $.99 cents on most books and are constantly giving away novels. This has bottomed out the market, virtually saturating it with so many cheap and free novels on any one day that readers no longer have to purchase books to keep their Kindles loaded with reading material.
Since readers are getting these books for free or nearly free, they no longer equate the books as tangible products with any worth. Because of this, whether they liked it or hated it, they don’t feel the need to leave a review like they do when they spend a substantial amount of money purchasing the product. My experiences have been mirrored by hundreds of other authors in my LinkedIn groups, each reporting virtually ZERO reviews despite giving away hundreds of books.
b. Plummeting Amazon rankings. One thing that I noticed while my book was up for free was a constant update on the book page on Amazon that gave its current rank in not only the free Kindle store, but also its current rank in the category that the book had been listed in. It topped out at #73. Once the free days were over, that ranking on the book page disappeared, giving only the current overall sales ranking of that book.
I also noticed while the promo was going on that while the category ranking was climbing, the overall ranking of ALL my books was steadily dropping in overall sales ranking. In addition, my overall author rankings on Amazon continued to drop during the free promotion.
Once the promotion was over, all of my books’ sales ranking AND my author ranking plummeted. I went from being ranked in the low 100K to nearly 500K. Why? As best as I can tell from reading articles on Amazon and other blogs, the sales ranking on Amazon only takes into account the number of books you are SELLING. So while the individual book that is being downloaded will rise in its individual category, my overall SALES ranking as an author went down. While this is not supposed to happen, and many authors do promotions trying to get their rankings up on Amazon, I noticed the opposite happening. The more books I gave away, the lower my overall sales ranking went down.
c.. No new sales. In the days and weeks after the free promotion, sales plummeted. Readers learn which authors are always running promotions and will usually wait until the author does one of the promotions to get the next book. They figure that the author will eventually do another freebie, so why buy something that will eventually be put up for free? This mentality in readers is why so few are buying books. SPAs are only compounding the problems for authors across the board by constantly doing free promotions. Readers never have to buy, and because of that, all authors are losing out on revenue.
In review, my reasons for pulling my works out of the KDP program are many. While I saw many, many books being downloaded, I have had zero return on this investment gamble. I have had no reviews, my Amazon rankings have plummeted, and my sales during the aftermath have been non-existent.
To be quite blunt, generally speaking, the only readers that a free promotion attracts are those who are always trolling for a free novel. Many authors do giveaways in hopes that it will hook the reader into buying the product. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening. Since they have so many free books at their disposal on any given day, readers rarely remember any author’s name. They are simply jumping from book to book to book, reading and then dismissing the author and the work when the next freebie comes along. Because of this market saturation, readers are not getting “hooked” on any one author or series. They are just following the breadcrumbs to the next free book for their Kindle.
In conclusion, I would advise any author who is thinking of joining KDP Select to think about their long term goals and review all of your sales data. Personally, I do not think that the return for giving away so many books is worth the revenue loss. The reasoning behind the promotions seems to be a good one, but when that rationalization proves to no longer be working to the authors’ advantage, it is time to take a long, serious look at the practice and decide if it is worth pursuing. From where I’m standing, if I am not at least getting a few reviews and a few paying customers after the fact, then the point of giving them away in the first place has become moot. It is for this reason that I have pulled my works from the program in favor of pursuing different avenues of promotions.
This does not mean that I will no longer offer promotional discounts or even free books. I have revamped my business plan and have decided to do the promotions through an alternative source outside of Amazon. I can only hope that this new business model will help me build my platform and bring in additional readers that the Amazon promotional tools are not providing.